Independent Clauses | n. —unusual words about underappreciated music

Matthew Shaw-Quick to the City

February 1, 2006

mattshawconvenBand Name: Matthew Shaw

Album Name: Quick to the City

Best Element: Strong organic-meets-synthetic songwriting
Genre: Electro-indie
Website: www.mattshaw.us

Label Name: Burning Building Recordings (www.bbrecordings.com)

Band E-mail: matt@mattshaw.us

Matthew Shaw is a very comfortable songwriter. No matter how many times I’ve heard a song of his, whether it be once or a hundred, I feel a connection with his songwriting. It could be his vulnerable lyrics, or his disarming melodies, or his organic-meets-synthetic songwriting- but whatever it is, it makes me want to rant and rave about Matthew Shaw.

Thus, I was thrilled when I received a new EP by Mr. Shaw. I had high hopes for this disc, because I still spin his stellar debut Ghosts in the Concrete quite often, which is high praise from a guy who listens to about five new CDs a week. Those hopes were all fulfilled, and while I could ask for a few things different, Convenience is still quite a good release.

Not content to rest on the laurels of his last release, which was almost an entirely synthetic affair, Shaw has incorporated a full band into this EP. The basis of the sound is still electronic, for sure- but there’s a lot more real guitar (“Quicksand”), real bass (“The Drunk”), even some real drums (“These Lists are Tombstones”) included with the electronic beats. All of this new instrumentation naturally makes the sound much thicker and layered than it was in his debut EP, which is a very satisfying change- songs like “The Drunk” could not exist without this new-found density.

With this integration of more players comes a couple new moods into his arsenal- whereas Ghosts in the Concrete was an exercise in disenfranchised melancholia, musically this album takes some new directions without abandoning the old. The upbeat “These Lists are Tombstones” could almost be counted as an indie-dance number, while “The Drunk” feels more epic than any of his previous work. To balance out his new-found interests, there are some songs that are merely a tweaking of the original sound- the lead riff of “Deadlines and Days Off” sounds like something he would’ve produced earlier.

But the real showstopper here is the closer “Late Nights”- a song that actually sounds like late nights. This song includes real bass, real guitar, real drums, electronic noodling, and Matthew’s signature vocals. The song is mellow and brooding in the verses- pensive, restrained, and a little bit eerie. But the chorus! The chorus bursts into a striking indie-rock barnburner. It’s truly incredible. And he ends the EP on a beautiful note- a music box chorale that makes me want to drift peacefully off to sleep. It’s a statement from Shaw to us: “Yeah, I’m a little more rock now, but here’s the proof that I still have the pop in me.”

And while the songwriting of this album is fantastic, there are a couple negative issues that caught my ear. The lyrics of this EP are good, no doubt- “These Lists are Tombstones” is especially inspired in its deep truth about the busyness of life hidden behind a little ironic humor. The main problem lies in songs like “The Drunk” and “Deadlines and Days Off”- songs that touch on topics like transition, disillusionment, social nervousness, and other topics very similar to the ones that make up the debut album. I fear that if Matthew doesn’t find some new topics, he’ll become a one-trick pony in the lyrical vein.

The second quibble I have is that although the instrumentation is ratcheted up in quality, the vocals seem to have less punch to them. Shaw’s voice is one of the most accessible pieces of his sound, and it makes me sad to see that his melodies are not as strong as they could be in songs like “Quicksand” and the verses of “Late Nights”. They’re not bad- but from what he has shown in the past, he can do better.

Those two minor issues are not nearly enough to stop anyone from getting this EP- Convenience is, on the whole, a great EP that I will be playing alongside Ghosts In the Concrete for a long time to come. His sound is comfortable- there’s no way you can hear it and not fall in love with it. That’s the mark of a great songwriter, and that’s the real reason you should buy this disc: you’ll love it.

-Stephen Carradini

independentclauses@hotmail.com

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Stephen Carradini and friends write reviews of bands that are trying to make the next step in their careers.

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